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Luka Hyde, an 18-year-old Chattanooga Christian School student with Down syndrome, recently acheived the rank of Eagle Scout. Contributed photo by Deborah Hyde.

For a solid decade, Luka Hyde, 18, was never at home for the Fourth of July.

The Chattanooga Christian School student was always away at Boy Scout camp during the summer holiday.

It took that kind of long-term dedication for Luka to earn 36 merit badges and attain the rank of Eagle Scout.

"It's not that Luka is exceptional," said his mother, Deborah Hyde, who works for a Chattanooga drug company. "He just happens to be a person who keeps achieving things and [who] has Down syndrome."

(READ MORE: Four Chattanooga-area girls make history as Eagle Scouts)

His family says Luka is believed to be the first local Scout with Down syndrome to earn the rank of Eagle Scout.

Merit badge accommodations are provided for Scouts with special needs, which sometimes involve extended time to complete tasks. Still, Luka had to work hard to complete such Eagle Scout requirements as a 15-mile hike and a 1-mile swim, his parents say. He also was required to hold leadership roles within his troop, his dad said, jobs that required votes of support from his peers.

Google Luka Hyde and you'll find links to a host of news reports about his family's court fight for educational inclusively for Luka, who attended Chattanooga public elementary schools as a youngster.

(READ MORE: Regional Boy Scouting grew quickly just over 100 years ago)

In 2018, a federal judge ordered the Hamilton County Department of Education to pay the family a six-figure amount as reimbursement for private school expenses after Luka was removed from Normal Park Elementary School and placed in a comprehensive development program at Red Bank Elementary when he was in second grade, according to news reports. The court found that the switch violated federal rules drafted to protect students with disabilities.

Today, Luka is a junior at Chattanooga Christian with his sights set on graduation with a regular high school diploma. He hopes to attend Lipscomb University in Nashville and aspires to be a singer-songwriter.

"We joke that he wants to go there because [country music singer] Carrie Underwood lives nearby," Deborah teased.

"Stop it, Mom," Luka replied with a smile.

The quest to be an Eagle Scout began when Luka was 7 and joined a Cub Scout pack at Normal Park Elementary School.

(READ MORE: Chattanooga-area Boy Scouts trade popcorn for MoonPies in fall fundraiser)

"When we started [Scouts] he wanted to be an Eagle Scout," said Luka's dad, Greg Hyde, who has been by his son's side from his Pinewood Derby days in Cub Scouts to his Eagle Scout ceremony last fall.

"Most Eagles don't get there by themselves," his mom said. "They get there because they have great Scout leaders, great fellow Scouts and parental support."

Luka said his favorite scouting memory is going to the Summit Bechtel Reserve, a scouting retreat in West Virginia.

For his Eagle Scout project, Luka planned and organized an effort to build the foundation for a pre-fab aviary for HappyNest, a non-profit rehab center for sick and injured birds. He and his dad, a construction contractor, led a month-long effort that involved 126 hours of volunteer time.

"It was a nice crew of young men," said Sherry Teas, of HappyNest. "They had to lift up the buildings and put in steel beams and concrete to support it."

Deborah Hyde said of her son: "He doesn't have to be exceptional to do these things. He just needed a chance, and support."

Contact Mark Kennedy at mkennedy@timesfreepress.com.

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